New York

Cuomo, legislative leaders announce budget agreement

Agreement makes 2 percent property tax cap permanent, Includes criminal justice reforms, and increases education spending $1B to $27.9B
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office early Sunday was announcing a 2019-20 state budget agreement with the Legislature.
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office early Sunday was announcing a 2019-20 state budget agreement with the Legislature.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York state Legislature leaders early Sunday announced an agreement on a $175.5 billion 2020 budget, which is slated for adoption in time to go into effect for the start of the fiscal year Monday.

The budget proposal holds spending growth at 2 percent for the ninth consecutive year and cuts taxes for the middle class, the governor’s office announced shortly after midnight.

The budget proposal includes policies aimed at sweeping transformation and social justice reform to the state.The proposal includes: a metropolitan transit agency reform plan and steady revenue stream to fund its next capital plan; an additional $1 billion to support education, bringing total education funding to $27.9 billion; and the criminal justice reforms, including reforming the cash bail system and trial and pre-trial discovery processes to make them speedier .

The budget proposal will likely be acted on by legislators later Sunday.

“This agreement accomplishes our goals and enacts the transformative policies of our 100-day justice agenda, while keeping spending at 2 percent for the ninth consecutive year,” Cuomo said.

“The Senate majority committed to passing a responsible, effective, and on-time state budget, and that is what we have achieved,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The 2019-2020 state budget will provide an over $1 billion increase in state education aid, with a focus on struggling school districts.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said: “Despite the financial challenges we face, the Assembly majority fought to defend the needs of our most vulnerable populations in this year’s state budget. We did not lose sight of our commitment to students or our pledge to create more affordable pathways to higher education. This budget delivers on our promise to develop sustainable funding for the MTA and addresses critical transportation needs throughout the state.”

Cuomo and legislators touted the criminal justice reforms that include the following:

  • Reforming bail and pretrial detention reform: As part of a plan to modernize New York’s bail system, cash bail will be eliminated for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, alongside a new requirement that police officers must issue desk appearance tickets to most people charged with misdemeanors and Class E felonies, rather than making a custodial arrest. Together, these reforms will ensure approximately 90 percent of people charged, but not yet convicted of a crime, are not sitting in jail awaiting trial solely because they do not have the economic resources to meet bail.
  • Transforming the discovery process: In order to overhaul New York’s antiquated discovery process by which prosecutors were able to withhold basic evidence until the day the trial begins, legislation included in the proposed budget will require that both prosecutors and defendants share all information in their possession well in advance of trial. Defendants will also be allowed the opportunity to review whatever evidence is in the prosecution’s possession prior to pleading guilty to a crime. In addition, the legislation will ensure that victims and witnesses are protected from intimidation and other forms of coercion by providing prosecutors with the ability to petition a court for a protective order, shielding identifying information when necessary to ensure the safety of witnesses and the sanctity of the judicial process.
  • Ensuring the right to a speedy trial: Under New York State law, misdemeanors are required to be resolved within 90 days and felonies within 180 days, however, the average length of pretrial detention is far longer. To address this, the proposed budget includes legislation that requires courts to take a proactive role in advising litigants on how time will be charged. When appropriate, courts will also inquire into the government’s readiness to proceed to trial and require that the government file all appropriate paperwork before a statement of readiness is accepted, ensuring that the government is not able to proceed to trial until the defendant has been provided with all of the information in the case against them.

The spending plan also includes extensive reforms for the mass transit authority that oversees operation and maintenance of public transit in Metropolitan New York City, an entity of contention over its fiscal management and responsiveness to users.

Proponents of the agreement also touted increased education funding and its distribution. An increase of more than $1 billion in education aid will bring total education funding to a record $27.9 billion, with over 70 percent of the additional monies targeted for poorer districts. School districts would be required to report how they provide appropriate funding for certain schools.

The proposed budget would also establish a public financing commission that will have the binding power to implement public campaign financing for legislative and statewide offices, authorizing up to $100 million annually in public funds. The commission will determine specific aspects of the public financing system, including eligibility thresholds, public financing limits, and contribution limits for participating candidates. The commission’s findings will be due in a report by Dec. 1, 2019 and will be binding unless modified by law within 20 days.

The budget proposal also seeks to bolster the Affordable Care Act and Health Exchange, establishing defenses against efforts by President Trump to roll back existing legislation.

The proposed budget would prohibits the use of disposal plastic bags. It would allow counties and cities to opt in to a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 40 percent of the revenue supporting local programs to buy reusable bags for low- and fixed-income consumers, and 60 percent of the revenue supporting programs in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

The proposed budget builds upon voting reform passed within the first 10 weeks of the legislative session. It calls fo radditional legislation mandating three hours of paid time off for all New Yorkers to vote on Election Day, enacting online voter registration, funding e-poll books, and expanding upstate voting hours to begin at 6 a.m. are being enacted as part of this year’s Budget, and includes $10 million for early voting.

The budget proposal will invest an additional $500 million in clean water infrastructure and expands eligibility for the Excelsior Scholarship Free Tuition Program.

The budget proposal would enact new regulations for the limo industry, making it a class E felony for knowingly operating a limo where such operation causes the death of another person;, creating heightened civil penalties – including higher fines – for operating without state Department of Transportation operating authority or violating DOT safety regulations.

Additionally, state police and DOT will have new authority to retrieve vehicle plates when limos are out of compliance. The Department of Motor Vehicles will be able to refuse and revoke registrations for limos that do not meet federal safety standards. If an unauthorized vehicle seeks an inspection at a licensed inspection station, the inspection station will now be required to report that vehicle to the DMV.

Any inspection station found to have improperly issued inspections three times within an 18-month period will have its operating certificate suspended. Stretch limos will be prohibited from making U-turns. Commercial vehicles with a seating capacity of eight or more passengers will be required to carry increased insurance of at least $1.5 million in coverage.

The budget proposal would authorize up to $20 million for outreach and education efforts to ensure all New Yorkers are counted as part of the census. 

The proposed budget includes record funding of $300 million for environmental protection, the highest level of funding in the program’s history.

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